The truth is, many Black people have been experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for decades, many most likely even undiagnosed.
The traumatizing role that slavery, racial oppression and violent hatred toward Black people has been embedded in our minds, making it difficult for us to mentally manage additional mental stressors. But still we do it — day after day. While many people associate post-traumatic stress disorder solely with being the result of experiencing war, it’s actually a chronic psychiatric disorder that occurs in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event — such as a global pandemic and racial injustice.
But what happens when they both occur at the same time? How do we compartmentalize the pain and trauma we’ve been experiencing since birth? Case-after-case of violence against Black Americans at the hands of police officers has led to national daily protests, yet simultaneously, Black people are still dealing with a global virus that is disproportionately impacting and killing our community?
Seems unbearable doesn’t it?
One study of racial discrimination and psychopathology across three U.S. ethnic minority groups found that Black people experience significantly more instances of discrimination than either Asian or Hispanic Americans — though if we’re keeping it real, we don’t need a study to tell us that.
Furthermore, those Black people who experienced the most racism were significantly more likely to experience symptoms of PTSD as well. Nyasha Chikowore, M.S., a clinical psychology doctoral extern at Capital Center for Psychotherapy & Wellness in Washington, D.C. and author of children’s book Giraffe Asks For Help explores the long-term effects that our current climate will have on our psyche — so it’s important to take care of yourself sooner, rather than later.
An increase in mental health issues.
It almost goes without saying that we will see an increase in individuals who are not only struggling with their mental health, but also those who are actually seeking out help. The important thing is to do something about it as soon as you recognize it. “For individuals who were already dealing with mental health concerns, the pandemic has exacerbated those issues,” says Chikowore. “For others, new issues are surfacing as many are dealing with unemployment, financial concerns, grief and loss, illness, a lack of motivation and productivity. The added stress of the continued injustices against Black people only adds to the numbers we’ll see. After offering a free support group for Black people recently, my inbox has been inundated with emails from individuals wanting to join and seeking affordable therapy.”
Increased need for culturally sensitive mental health services.
The good news? Once life returns to normal — more people than ever will seek out therapy. The bad news? More people than ever week out therapy. “With this increase in mental health issues, more individuals will be seeking therapy,” Chikowore. “Everyone should have access to mental health services, however, depending on where you live, it may be difficult to locate a therapist who looks like you, or one who can understand your experience as a Black person in this country. Many of us may have to visit multiple therapists to find the right fit, and also contend with waitlists and insurance coverage.”
Increased risky behavior.
Many of us are itchy for the day when “outside will open back up.” But while states are currently going through phased re-openings, the new normal will be a lot different from life as we previously know it. But despite the urge to make risky choices, it’s important to consider against it. “Feeling isolated for so long can take a toll on anyone, as there have been individuals quarantined without a significant other, family, or roommates,” says Chikowore. “Isolation, paired with the triggers of racial trauma in the news and on our timelines, makes it possible that many will adopt the ‘you only live once’ attitude. I have seen that with Black men in particular, putting themselves in dangerous situations (e.g. fighting, reckless driving), is a more socially acceptable reaction than being sad or showing various emotions.”
Increased intentional self care.
As poet and activist Audre Lorde once said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” “With the increased exhaustion from fighting for justice and maintaining a sense of normalcy during the pandemic, we will see more intention around self-care,” says Chikowore. “Black people are doing yoga, meditating, going to therapy, gardening, utilizing acupuncture, reiki, and other alternative methods of care more than before. Many of my clients are also detaching from their phones, walking, cycling, and spending time in nature to get a breather from reality.”